OJ Simpson publisher hits back after sacking: 'It's war'

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The sudden firing by Rupert Murdoch's publishing giant HarperCollins of Judith Regan after her ill-fated attempt to publish a book by OJ Simpson hypothesising about killing his ex-wife has triggered a maelstrom of mutual recrimination.

Ms Regan was sacked as head of the HarperCollins subsidiary ReganBooks, after she scrapped publication of If I Did It. Yesterday she opened her counteroffensive, vowing through a lawyer to declare war on HarperCollins, owned by Mr Murdoch's media behemoth, News Corporation.

At the same time, titbits of subplot surrounding the events that led HarperCollins to give Ms Regan her marching orders are beginning to trickle out.

These include allegations of her making offensive comments to a HarperCollins lawyer in a telephone conversation, which led to her sacking on Friday.

Signalling her determination not to go quietly, Ms Regan disclosed that she had hired one of Hollywood's most feared celebrity lawyers, Bert Fields.

Mr Fields, meanwhile, wasted no time before unleashing his first warning shots. "They've chosen war and they will get exactly that," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Ms Regan's uncrowning came in the form of a two-sentence statement from the president of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, minutes before top executives of News Corporation were to gather for their annual Christmas party.

Ms Regan, who only this year, with Mr Murdoch's blessing, moved her ReganBooks operations from New York to Los Angeles to be closer to the entertainment business, was confronted by armed security guards who told her to pack up and leave.

The mid-November announcement of plans to publish the Simpson book and an accompanying television special spawned a hurricane of opprobrium that eventually engulfed Mr Murdoch himself. He finally vetoed the book and apologised to all who had been offended, including the family of Nicole Simpson, the former footballer's murdered ex-wife.

Ms Regan responded with public statements defending herself that may have crossed the line into outright disloyalty to Mr Murdoch. In her own show on satellite radio she reportedly complains of "backstabbers at HarperCollins and of "people trying to take her down".

The last straw apparently came with her phone call to Mark Jackson, a lawyer with HarperCollins. Ms Friedman, who famously has long had a testy relationship with Ms Regan, decided to pass the information on to Mr Murdoch. According to reports, it was Mr Murdoch who decided that Ms Regan had become a liability and authorised Ms Friedman to fire her.

It marks an astonishing crash-landing for Ms Regan, who was given her own ReganBooks imprint 12 years ago and turned it into one of the most profitable publishing operations, with books ranging from the serious, such as Trent Lott's political memoir, Herding Cats, to the seriously salacious Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson.